As parents in South Africa, ignoring the history of our country is simply not an option…

Our children are still little, but very soon they’ll start asking questions about their own identities and about their (and our) place in society. And as their parents we have the responsibility of guiding them wisely.

Which means that we’re always on the lookout for books that help tell the stories of families that are different from our own and of the people of this country.

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, Long Walk to Freedom is Nelson Mandela’s autobiography adapted for children by poet Chris van Wyk and illustrated by Paddy Bouma.

Chris van Wyk was born in Soweto in 1957 and grew up in Riverlea (an area designated as a coloured township under the Group Areas Act). He became well known in the 1970s for his writing and worked as editor at Ravan Press, a publisher opposed to apartheid. In 1979, he published the anti-apartheid poem “In Detention” for which he received the Olive Schreiner Prize.

He passed away in October 2014, just three months after Long Walk to Freedom was published and we’re grateful that this part of his legacy is something that our children can read and understand from a young age.

Illustrator Paddy Bouma lives in Stellenbosch and her artwork is gentle, with just the right amount of lines to capture the story and beautiful watercolour washes that reflect the colours of our country.

This book is not a bedtime fairytale… It tells a story of hardship, struggle and overcoming. A story that is still being written and rewritten every day in millions of lives in South Africa. It’s story that we have the responsibility of knowing and passing on to our children.

It’s not going to be an easy journey and we’ll need to spend many hours going through these images with our children. We have to ask God for wisdom and trust Him to help us shape their world view with a grace and understanding that extends far past our own lived experiences.

Obviously books are only part of this and we try to live our lives in a way that takes us and our children outside the circles of privilege that their adopted parents’ skin colour naturally places us in.

The book is available in Xhosa, Afrikaans and English, a fact which, in itself, makes it a unique and very useful tool in telling the story to our children.